The Voice's Cody Belew Talks 'Jolene' Twist, Mad Max Jackets and How He's Like…Seinfeld?
Cody Belew may have blown a couple of minds when he performed Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” during Season 3 of The Voice — complete with outrageous leather jacket, bad-ass boots and end-of-song hip swivelrie — but in his mind, it was a perfect opportunity to “focus-group what America was willing to digest.”
And when he breezed into the next round, the 27-year-old Arkansas native took it as a direct message. “People said, ’We’re ready. We understand exactly what it was you were doing, and we want more of that,’” says Belew. “There’s a reason why your David Bowie, your Prince, your Michael Jackson, your George Michael, your Freddie Mercury dominated when they were on the scene; people want to have fun. They like that it’s sexy, but there’s a sense of humor to it. They like things to be theatrical and visually mesmerizing.”
TVLine caught up with the Top 8 finisher to talk about his dreams of carrying on in the tradition of those outré artists, his vision for performances from “Jolene” to “One More Try,” and the sound he’s hoping to concoct when he gets into the studio and records his debut album.
TVLINE | As someone who’s watched every episode of The Voice since Season 1, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a contestant make as much of a musical U-turn as you did between your Battle Round cover of “Telephone” and your Knockout Round rendition of “Jolene.” Was that a conscious move to try to show a completely different side in terms of genre, vocal and mood?
“Telephone,” first of all, was Cee Lo’s way of really throwing down the gauntlet, to see exactly how much I could rise to the occasion. But yes, I went into this thing with a very strategic idea about what I was going to show — and at what point. I knew that after “Telephone,” people really needed to see me sing something, not just be a performer. We leaned more toward the White Stripes’ version than Dolly [Parton's original], and I was just really happy that the viewing audience got it, and appreciated it, and didn’t mind that I kept the words the way they were written, because that was a conscious decision I made.
TVLINE | Obviously, the song is a plea to the titular vixen, and you didn’t shy away from the line “I’m begging of you please, don’t take my man.” How did you approach the song in your mind?
I actually took a very, very poetic take on it. And of course it was maybe too much of a hot-button issue to have in my B-roll, but I took the perspective of, “Okay, what if Jolene was the idea of war in general, and that the man that she’s taking is a son, or a brother, or a cousin, or an uncle who wants to go, who loves the idea of going, but you don’t want him to go?” And so I really took it to that head space, and that’s the way that I wanted the orchestration to come across. The band went with me, turning the song into more of a plea and a cry, into the battle call that it was when the White Stripes did it. So that allowed me to see it in a way that wasn’t uncomfortable, and didn’t come across as jarring to people who might not be ready for that kind of gender-specific song.
TVLINE | Interesting. So you get to the live playoff rounds and cover George Michael’s “One More Try.” I felt like that was maybe your best vocal of the season. Had you covered it prior to The Voice?
No, and when I got the email that Cee Lo wanted me to do that song, right off the bat I was thinking, “Oh God, I’m already getting that lazy comparison to George Michael just because I have a beard and I have a lot of hair,” and I didn’t want to feed into that. But then I thought, “Okay, if I can take this one to church and strip away the ’80s synthesizers from it, this could actually be a good moment for me.” And it was the first time on the show that I felt both feet under me — as far as being the performer that I’ve always been, someone who charges the stage and commands the audience.
TVLINE | We saw you do that signature shimmy on certain notes, bringing in a little bit of playfulness to the stage. Is that something that you’re conscious of while you’re doing it, or is involuntary?
That is definitely me being the calculated, seasoned performer. I know where I can push it, and I know where I can get a rise out of people. Folks back home that are used to seeing me live; that was the moment where they were like, “Okay, that’s the Cody that we love up there.”